Washington (CNN) -- Lina Stauffenberg stood on a corner outside the U.S. Supreme Court on a brilliant but unseasonably chilly early spring day and defined marriage as that between a man and a woman.
"A father and a mother is best for children," she said.
Laura De Nardis and Deborah Smith stood arm-in-arm near the same spot.
"We want equality under the law," De Nardis said unequivocally as she wrapped an arm around her partner.
Stauffenberg, De Nardis and Smith not only stood apart literally, but also sharply illustrated the divide making history inside the high court -- the question of whether same-sex marriage can be prohibited under the law.
As the justices weighed legal arguments over an appeal of California's same-sex marriage ban, demonstrators packed sidewalks around the ornate Supreme Court building.
They were jammed shoulder to shoulder as speeches rang out from a makeshift stage. Demonstrators from both sides pumped their fists waved homemade signs. Some broke into chants while others led a small parade that snaked between the crowd.
The mood was festive overall. Police cleared the roads and maintained access to the court but otherwise kept a low profile.
Grass ringing the court grounds was trampled to mud, which covered the sidewalk. Shoeprints were everywhere.
The public sentiment outside the marble court seemed to mirror recent polling showing a growing awareness around the issue, and stronger support for same-sex marriage specifically.
According to the CNN/ORC International survey, 57% say they have a family member or close friend who is gay or lesbian, up 12 points from 2007. Also, the number of Americans who support same-sex marriage has risen by almost the same amount over the same period - from 40% in 2007 to 53%.
"It's time that gay and lesbian couples have the same rights as straight couples," says said Olga Liapis-Muzzy, who was outside the court with her partner of three years, Emily Gosnell.
Some of those gathered recognized a momentous event.
"It's a historic day. I want to be a part of history," said Scott Nelson, a New Jersey history teacher who arrived at the Supreme Court at 2 a.m.
Someone yells to same-sex marriage supporters: "What do we want?"
They respond: "Equality!"
The person again implores: "When do we want it?"
"Now!" is the answer.
Same-sex marriage opponents were vocal, too.
Chris Simon of Maryland owns a detailing company, and held a sign that read: "Say No to Same-Sex Marriage."
"I believe marriage is between a man and a woman. This is the way God planned it. Two men and two women can't reproduce. That's going against word of God," he said.
Carl Boyd Jr., is a Christian Conservative radio host from Nashville.
Dressed in a suit, Boyd debates a woman and a man and then walks away. He then stood on the edge of the crowd.
"I am out here to stand with the institution of marriage between one man and one woman," he said.
"Gay rights and civil rights are not the same thing," he added later.
As he spoke, however, supporters for same-sex marriage continue to wave signs and cheer.
Across the street music starts to play from a boom box and some of the younger supporters of same-sex marriage begin to dance.
Soon, the arguments are over inside and lawyers and spectators walk out of the court.
People begin to cheer and snap pictures. Those who were inside smiled back and took pictures of the crowd.